As a side-effect of my renewed interest in the Mystic River (see my previous post), I became really interested in learning more of the history of the region. I’ve lived here for a while now and I’ve tried to catch up on some history, but I didn’t realize that Blessing of the Bay, the first non-fishing ship built by Europeans in Massachusetts, was done right down the street from where I live. I had no idea that those banks had been the launching point of such an extensive ship-building history. The Riverside Yacht Club (that you pass as you take your kayak up the Mystic) has a delightful Heritage page with images of some of the ships that came from here and some stories of the builders.
Walking around the neighborhood of the boathouse we also spotted the monument that indicates the location of the house of John Winthrop–Governor of the colony. I hadn’t realized that the Governor had a house so close to here. It turns out that one of the earliest maps of the online collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society is from the Winthrop family papers, dated 1637, which illustrates Ten Hills and a bit more of what we know today as Somerville, and a smidge of Medford. A little more reading led us to believe that the Governor’s property went from the banks of the Mystic up to about Broadway and over to College Hill. When my housemate and I realized that our small slice of Winter Hill property had once been the Governor’s, we were pretty surprised.
We wanted to understand the transition to where we are today in more detail, and we went to look for further maps and papers that could help us to figure it out. More maps from the Revolutionary War period are available online [I click the "large" link over there for best viewing of these]. One map of the Battle of Bunker Hill illustrates Winter Hill with “woody and marshy” area nearby. Another famous map shows the Winter Hill Fort quite clearly. I had heard about the Winter Hill Fort but I hadn’t known any of the specifics. I found a document in the Library of Congress that shows the layout of this installation–which is called “Plan of the rebels works on Winter-Hill“. The Rebels works. Heh.
My favorite view, though, came from a map verbosely titled A draught of the towns of Boston and Charles Town and the circumjacent country shewing the works thrown up by His Majesty’s troops, and also those by the rebels, during the campaign: 1775. from the Library of Congress. The extensive fortification of Winter Hill by the rebels is clear on this diagram. I also found a reference from 1903 that described the installation this way:
Winter Hill Fort appears to have been the most extensive, and the intrenchments more numerous than any of the other positions of the American army. The fort on the hill is almost entirely destroyed; only a small part of the rampart remains perfect.
How sad that even by 1903 there was little evidence of the fort remaining. What a gem we would have. But then, I probably wouldn’t have this house either…
I knew that the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere had crossed through the neighborhood, and I enjoy the re-enactment each year on Patriots’ Day. But it was great fun to electronically unearth more of the details about the physical foundations beneath the places I walk all the time, and their place in history.
This also inspired me to edit the Wikipedia entry for the Winter Hill neighborhood. If the original creator of that page has a look, he or she will find that I have added some of these historical treasures to that page–I hope that’s ok. I really thought that the page could use a bit more Paul Revere and company, which means there’s proportionately less Whitey Bulger than there used to be. Not to discount the recent history, of course, but to enhance our understanding of a larger thread through time.